The Lord of the Rings Reread

LotR re-read: Two Towers III.3, “The Uruk-hai”

To make up for there being no LotR re-read post last week (I was having trouble accessing the back end), and to get a bit ahead, here’s chapter III.3 of The Two Towers, “The Uruk-hai.” The usual spoilers for all of LotR and comments after the jump.

What Happens

Pippin wakes up and remembers the breaking of the Fellowship, his and Merry’s ambush by Orcs, and Boromir’s defense of them. He hears arguments between Uglúk, the leader of Saruman’s Uruk-hai; Grishnákh, the leader of the Mordor Orcs; and members of the Northern Orcs. Uglúk and the Uruk-hai kill several Northern Orcs; the Mordor Orcs leave. Pippin uses the knife of one of the dead Orcs to cut his wrist bindings and re-tie them loosely.

Pippin and Merry are first carried by Orcs and then forced to run. When they come to an area of soft wet ground, Pippin runs away from the Orcs and drops his brooch to try and leave a sign for Aragorn. The Orcs run for some time, hoping to outdistance the Riders who will be coming because they let a scout get away. At daylight, most of the Northerners break for the forest, and Grishnákh and co. return. They also head for the forest.

At the end of the day, the Uruk-hai and Mordor orcs catch up with the Northerners and are encircled quite close to the forest by the Riders. Grishnákh covertly searches the hobbits; Pippin intuits that he’s looking for the Ring, and aided by Merry, tries to get him to untie them. Instead he grabs them and takes them toward the forest. He is killed by a Rider, and the hobbits end up outside the circle. They free themselves, eat some lembas, and head for Fangorn. They see the Riders attack at dawn and Uglúk nearly reach the forest. They flee deep into the woods and do not see the end of the battle or the burning of the Orcs’ corpses, though many others do.


Where to start? I guess with where the chapter does, which is after we last saw the hobbits but before the point where we left Aragorn and company; it sets up an asymmetry in the timelines that will, I think, have the effect of pulling the story along until they meet up again. Also, again, we don’t get Boromir’s fighting in any detail.

The other thing this starts with is Pippin’s POV, which I suspect is chosen over Merry’s because he has much more growth to do than Merry. And just in this chapter he definitely seems to be rising to the occasion, thinking quickly and taking calculated but useful risks.

(The opening is where he thinks of being “just a piece of luggage,” which if I recall correctly, Saruman will pick up on much later.)

* * *

I mostly don’t “hear” Tolkien’s invented languages, for all that I try, because I am not a phonetic reader and so words in other languages are difficult for me—I mostly work on shape recognition. That said, the phrase “pushdug Saruman-glob” jumped out at me from the middle of an Orcish (Northern? Mordor?) curse as . . . less “hideous” than “inadvertently comical.”

Speaking of Orcs and internal divisions, when later in the chapter we’re told that Grishnákh and co. have come back, I had to go and find where we’re told that they’d left: apparently the phrase “Grishnákh stepped aside and vanished into the shadows” is supposed to convey that. I also didn’t really follow the logistics of the Northerners’ leaving: they make a break . . . in exactly the same direction that everyone else is going? . . . and run fast enough that it takes hours to catch up with them, even though the Uruk-hai are bigger, stronger, and more comfortable in daylight.

Also, the chapter does a nice job setting up Grishnákh’s eventual power-grab, and Pippin and Merry’s attempt to manipulate him, not only through all the arguing but Uglúk’s perceptively noting to him that “You seem to know a lot. More than is good for you, I guess.”

Other Orcish bits: the revitalizing liquor reminded me of the miruvor of Rivendell, but twisted. I don’t say that it was created from the miruvor, just that it seemed a dark parallel.

The Uruk-hai call the Riders “Whiteskins.” I suspect that calling the Northerners “maggots” also is, among other things, an implicit reference to their skin color (which I’m presuming is lighter since they live in caves).

Overall I would say that this chapter shows the Orcs as self-willed individuals, fairly intelligent and comprehensible ones at that, though also cruel, crude, self-interested, and with varying degrees of self-control and foresight.

* * *

Pippin dropping his brooch reminded me that someone once explained that proper cloaks didn’t actually get their edges pinned together at the neck, because the weight would drag back and choke you? Or something like that. I didn’t really follow it then, but if anyone cares to explain or has pointers, I’d appreciate it.

* * *

Another weak-supernatural-good example: the arrow that kills Grishnákh is “aimed with skill, or guided by fate.” The horse also jumps over the hobbits either because it saw them “or because of some other sense,” though this may be less supernatural and more excellent natural, as it were.

Horse people: if your horse jumped for no reason that you could tell, after your comrade just killed an enemy with a spear, would you go and check what it was?

* * *

I admit I smiled at the description of Pippin and Merry eating “thoughtfully, sitting in the dark, heedless of the cries and sounds of battle nearby,” and yet I found it easier to imagine than I expected.

I am not at all surprised that Merry spent time at Rivendell with maps, because he previously struck me as the most practical of the hobbits.

* * *

The Riders attacking the Orcs at dawn now seems to me a precursor to the Pelennor Fields, which is not a connection I’d drawn before. I admit that the movies are an influence here.

The end of the chapter is interesting for its shift of point-of-view. I don’t even remember the last time we had an explicit omniscient narrator section:

So it was that they did not see the last stand, when Uglúk was overtaken and brought to bay at the very edge of Fangorn. There he was slain at last by Éomer, the Third Marshal of the Mark, who dismounted and fought him sword to sword. And over the wide fields the keen-eyed Riders hunted down the few Orcs that had escaped and still had strength to fly.

Then when they had laid their fallen comrades in a mound and had sung their praises, the Riders made a great fire and scattered the ashes of their enemies. So ended the raid, and no news of it came ever back to either Mordor or to Isengard; but the smoke of the burning rose high to heaven and was seen by many watchful eyes.

The shift wasn’t strictly necessary to conclude the arc of the Orc raid, since we know its ending from prior chapters, but I think the flow benefits from a specific reference back. In addition, this allows the chapter to end on an ominous note.

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